If you’re curious, here’s some technical info about how we do it.
We have created a 3D image of the house, which is then imported into the sequencing software called xLights.
Once the house model has been loaded, we can then add all the lights and ensure that they are positioned exactly as they will be on the house.
After that, the fun bit – we can then import a music track & start to design how the lights will integrate:
As you will appreciate this is the part that takes the time & artistic flair. So, many of our sequences have been created with the help of a well known chap in the industry, Ron Howard (not that Ron Howard!) who is based just outside Los Angeles, California.
Once the sequences are complete, they can then be copied across to our show ‘controller’ which takes care of ensuring each light comes on & the right time and matches the music. Surprisingly, once the tracks are complete – we only need a very small amount of computing power to run the show – so our show controller is a device called a Raspberry Pi.
This little computer was designed by former graduates from Cambridge (just down the road) as a tool to help get more youngsters interested in STEM (Science, Engineering, Technology & Maths) subjects at school – but its found its way into all sorts of other projects – including ours!
Having copied the sequences & music tracks over, we then sort them into a running order – set the time we want it to start – and that’s it. We can get outside and watch the magic happen.
Our lights are all little devices called pixels. These each comprise 3 LED’s (Red,Green & Blue) and a tiny chip that adjust each LED to give the colour desired. They are all low power (either 5v or 12v – we have both types in the show) so we have a number of power supplies (in waterproof boxes) to ensure that we have power where its needed.
Much like ‘normal’ Christmas lights, these come in strings of 100. That’s great – but we want them in nice straight lines, or other shapes etc. That’s where we use ‘props’ to mount the pixels.
As you’ll have seen, we have nice straight lines to outline the house – to keep the pixels in those lines we use PVC pipe (21mm overflow pipe from screwfix!) which we have marked out at 5cm intervals and then drilled to suit. Its a long job but it really helps make the difference. Once drilled, we push the pixels and then cut the unused ones off the end. An extension cable is then added to which will run back to the controller. Very few pixels are wasted, the offcuts getting used in smaller props etc..
For more advanced designs, like snowflakes – these are manufactured in the United States, (we get them from a great chap in Surrey) – they just need assembly & pixels fitting.
Having assembled the props, we then have to connect them up to something. We use a device called a Falcon F16 for this – its a pixel controller board made for just this task.
As you can see it has 32 outputs, each one is connected to a component of the display and provides the power and data for the section. This board is one of a number in the show – all are connected via a computer network back to the Raspberry Pi which tells them what to do and when.